July 15, 2024


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Understanding the Unemployment Cycle of Loss/Grief

Understanding the Unemployment Cycle of Loss/Grief


You have probably heard of the Cycle of Grief that occurs with a significant change in your life, such as the death of someone close. Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the Cycle in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The Kübler-Ross model, or what has become known as the five stages of grief, is a series of emotional stages experienced when faced with death or the impending death of someone close. Kübler-Ross originally developed this model based on her observations of people suffering from terminal illness, although she later expanded her theory to apply to any form of catastrophic personal loss. The five stages she identified are

• Denial

• Anger

• Bargaining

• Depression

• Acceptance

A similar and very real Cycle of Loss occurs when someone loses their job. After applying this model to the business world, and specifically unemployment, I feel the steps between the Kübler-Ross stages are too large. Although now retired, I have years of experience in several segments of the business world, including self-employment, corporate experience as an employee, and government employment, and most recently, full-time volunteer service as an employment advisor in a church-sponsored employment resource center. Therefore, I would expand upon the Kübler-Ross model with the following stages.

• Shock

• False Confidence or Denial

• Frustration and/or Anger

• Guilt and Decreased Self-Worth

• Depression

• Coping

• Acceptance

• Hope

• Desire

• Involvement

• Rebuilding

• Real Confidence

• Growth

As the stages are discussed in this treatise, you will see that they fall into three distinct areas. I identify these three areas as, first, the fear stages; second, the coping and acceptance stages; and finally, the faith stages. If our goal is to achieve real confidence and measurable personal growth, as it should be, we have to move as quickly as possible through the early stages, which I have identified as the fear stages. Furthermore, it is almost universally recognized that individuals, while in these early fear stages, should not make major decisions, and perhaps even some minor decisions should be postponed.

Moreover, it’s possible for you to feel like you are on a roller-coaster because of the back-and-forth nature of one’s journey through the process. You will eventually turn your back on fear and turn toward faith, resulting in real confidence and growth. The time required to accomplish that turn away from fear and toward faith varies widely by individual and circumstances. But it must be accomplished to make real progress.

Let’s briefly examine each stage.


There is always an element of shock when job loss occurs. It doesn’t matter if you knew it was coming or not, shock is always the first emotion you feel. For some, this can have a substantial effect on the individual. So much so, in fact, that some companies always assign a co-worker to be with you in the office while you process the initial news of your job loss. Others simply take their box of personal belongings to their car and drive right to the employment center to look for a new job.

Don’t fail to consider the shock that will be felt by your family. Don’t wait for the children to ask their mother why daddy is staring at the television – and it’s not even turned on! Recognize that family members will go through the same Cycle of Loss stages you will. It is likely, however, that you will not all be at the same stage at the same time. Be patient with each other. You will need to let them know where you are in the Cycle of Loss, so they can use your progress to validate their own progress.

False Confidence or Denial

Anger and denial come next, but not always in the same order for everyone. How you react to the shock of job loss also determines how long you remain in this stage. Denial and false confidence often manifest themselves through pride or ego, leading to statements such as

• “I don’t need help.”

• “I can do this on my own.”

• “I don’t want anyone to know.”

• “I don’t need help redoing my resume; it got me a job last time.”

• “I know how to interview; I don’t need to practice.”

You must let go of pride and vanity and accept help in order to gain real confidence. Remember, real confidence and personal growth are our goal. Yes, I know, a new job is your goal! But that new job (your real new job, not a “tide-me-over” job) typically comes after you have moved through all the stages in this Cycle of Loss. The help I refer to can be self-help, help from family, friends and neighbors, or a combination of all.

I once met with an individual who insisted the manager who let him go must have been wrong, so he was working on visiting with the company president, who had an open door policy. He was so much into denial that as we were meeting to discuss his next steps in his new job search, he was emailing the company president. He finally left without finishing our meeting, because he was certain he would be back to work on Monday.

Frustration and Anger

Frustration, which can lead to anger, can be thought of as a state of insecurity caused by unfulfilled needs. Anger is generally about lack of control. Self-control is easier when there is no stress in our life. But unless you are independently wealthy, or have high self-esteem based on something other than your employment, job loss can be pretty stressful!

While not everyone initially feels angry about his or her job loss, the longer unemployment lasts the more likely the emotion of anger will be felt. If you do feel angry, I offer a caution. Don’t let this stage in your job loss cycle result in anger with those you love. Instead, let them grieve with you. You will all be better off.

Keep in mind that while in these early stages, you may be more vulnerable to impulsive, impatient, or intolerant behavior, so talking with a spouse, a friend, a job coach, etc. can keep you properly grounded.

Guilt and Decreased Self-Worth

Guilt occurs because of our inability to fulfill our obligations. Even simple pleasures, such as a trip to the ice cream store with the children, are now examined in light of a decreased family income. That’s why it is important to gather your family around you as soon as you can, and explain that you’ve been given an opportunity to explore other options for employment. Complex explanations are self-defeating, so keep it simple! Your department was downsized and you are looking for a new opportunity, is often all you need to say. Ask your family for suggestions on how expenses can be reduced; help them be part of your team!

Another way to diminish feelings of guilt during job loss is to always, and I mean always, save while you work. You may not be able to save much each week, but it adds up quickly. You never know when an extra $100 will come in handy. Remember, your savings account is not a spending account; you are saving for a rainy day. If you never have a rainy day, you have a great summer vacation fund!

If you have identified yourself as a clerk, a driver, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a whatever, being unemployed does not change your value. Think of a $20 bill. Whether it is crisp and new or old and crumpled, it is still worth $20! Whether you are working for XYZ Company or not, you are still valuable. So pass through the stage of decreased self-worth as quickly as you can. You are still as valuable today as you were yesterday!


If you linger in this stage of guilt and decreased self-worth, and leave it unchecked, you may fall into depression. While I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I do have personal experience with individuals who have been or are chronically depressed. Depression can be defined as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. While it may be okay to feel sad about an event, if you don’t move on, depression will obstruct everything you want to do. If not dealt with quickly, it may require the help of a professional to enable you to move on.

When you experience a loss of interest in your own well-being, the job search comes to a screeching halt. No employer will hire you if you convey no interest in your life. Employers want to hire vibrant, exciting and well-balanced individuals. So move through this stage even more quickly than the previous stage!

Another observation about these early stages is that you don’t pass through these emotions just one time – in the course of a job search, you may visit them often, especially as you let fear rule what you do. Fear immobilizes us and keeps us from the ultimate growth and progress the Lord intends for us to gain from the experience. Don’t let fear take over! Acknowledge where you are and move on! This is why good friends are so valuable. They can help us remember our self-worth.

By the way, if you have some friends who constantly ask if you are still unemployed, you may want to limit your time around them for a while. Please don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not saying you should unceremoniously dump your friends and family, it’s just that you should maximize the time you spend around optimistic people, not glass-half-empty people.

The ambivalence one feels while in these early stages can push you into taking ineffective or inappropriate action, or even no action at all. You need to build upon small successes as a means of moving away from these fear stages. Even making your bed in the morning can give you strength and courage for the rest of the day.


The next stage is where you take over! As you learn to cope with your situation, you finally leave the worst part of your journey behind. Coping is a conscious effort to solve problems, and seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress or conflict. Develop a plan of action, and stick to your plan. Write it down and then get your family, friends, and significant others to support you as you follow your plan. When your plan needs updated, cheerfully change it! But be sure to write your plan down and then follow it. The alternative is to leave your worries churning in your stomach and head and heart, all of which are susceptible to their own forms of ulcer.

Coping is often easier when you acquire additional skills. Attending a workshop on improving your resume or a workshop on how to interview properly can be immensely helpful. Practice interviews are also enormously helpful. Learning how to better use Microsoft Office products or Apple/Mac products, for example, can give you useful office skills and at the same time, boost your self-esteem.

When money is really tight, coping may also require you to take one of those “get-by-for-now” jobs, like delivering pizza in the evening. But don’t forget your primary “job” is looking for a new and meaningful job.


If you are coping with your situation, then the next step, Acceptance, is an easy one. You wake up one morning and suddenly realize you are a brilliant job seeker! You say to yourself, “okay, I’m out of work right now, but what does the future hold?” You are able to admit where you are, and rather than looking behind, you can cheerfully look ahead. You take a deep breath, and take the next step!

I have a friend who says about his situation, “It is what it is, but I’m working on it!” Which leads us directly to the next stage.


Now you are filled with Hope, the next stage. Hope is defined by Merriam-Webster as “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” Hope is that feeling we get that says all is not lost! Once you can accept your situation, it becomes much easier to look to and prepare for the future. You no longer define yourself as “unemployed” but rather as a talented individual looking for the next great opportunity!

This is the right place for me to mention my belief in the Almighty, and His role in our lives. We are not alone. Although it may seem that you are alone, you are not. God is aware of you and your hopes, dreams, and desires. When they match His plan for you, great things will happen – in His time, of course. In my opinion, faith in the Almighty will produce a better end result, and is thus a requirement in this process.


Wow, the stages are moving along rather quickly now. This is a good thing!

Filled with hope, you now have a real desire to improve your job search skills, and as they are developed, you discover real joy in your search. You may find opportunities you never thought of before. The job search becomes exciting.

However, another caution here. It is easy to become frustrated (all the way back to stage 3) when you get interviews but no job offers. Just remember, this is part of the job search process. Think of it this way, interview number 1 is practice for interview number 2, and so on. You should plan to learn something from every interview which make you a better you.

Remember, the interview is not to determine if you can do the job, as much as it is to see if you will do the job they want done, and perhaps more importantly, to see if you and the company are a good fit. Desire plays a big role in determining fit. Do you know what your real desires are? It may prove difficult, but you should resist the temptation to take a job you really don’t want.


This is where you acknowledge that you must be fully involved in this part of your life. Just like an old building that must be demolished before a new building can be constructed in the same spot, you must clear away the debris of your past to move on to your future. Remember this though; your past was not a failure! It was simply prologue to your future. The debris I refer to is caused by fear. Fear is not your friend! Clear away fears, doubts, worries, uncertainties, and such glass-half-empty thoughts. Then you can rebuild!

Another thought about staying involved. While you worked, did you eat regular meals? Did you have an exercise plan? Did you do things with your family? Well, don’t stop! You cannot afford to get sick from poor eating habits, and you cannot afford to get out of shape (whatever shape that was!). And you certainly cannot afford to alienate your family. Get up in the morning at your regular time. Dress for work (okay, maybe not the tie and jacket every day!) and be prepared to go to an interview at the drop of a hat. Yes, I realize you may need to consider not eating out as much as before, but maybe that is not a bad thing.


The next substantial stage is that of rebuilding; not rebuilding your life, because, admit it, you have had a great life to this point! We are referring to rebuilding your job search skills. You know what I mean, those skills that got rusty while you were working. You may even want to consider additional education, acquiring additional certifications, and even reading the latest book in your field of endeavor. As you improve your resume, practice your interviewing skills, strengthen your networking skills, and truly become a salesman of yourself, you will find that you enhance (rebuild?) your self-confidence as you do so.

Rebuilding may also include reviewing why you lost your last job. If it was truly the result of downsizing, you may want to examine your skill sets, to see if you can become more valuable to your next employer by learning new skills. If your job loss was for cause, you will want to examine what led up to that decision and what you can do to keep it from happening in the future. This review may only be effective after you’ve reached this stage; you have to be strong enough to face the realities of the situation.

Real Confidence

Confidence is a feeling or belief that you can do something well. After passing through all the previous stages, you are now ready to look a prospective employer right in the eye! Real confidence is acquired through adequate preparation and practice.

• In this stage, you already know your resume is a great resume,

• You have already practiced interviews multiple times so you know that you interview well, and

• You hold your head high and don’t worry about the pebbles at your feet.


As you look back at each of the stages you passed through, you now see that each was a necessary part of your growth. You are now stronger and more confident in yourself.

Now when the interview takes place and you don’t get the job, you have the self-confidence and courage to go to the next interview with a smile on your face. And if you do get the job, you have the self-confidence to start the job with high energy. Every employer loves an employee with a strong work ethic.


When you understand the Cycle of Loss and its impact on you mentally, emotionally, and physically, and the importance of moving through each stage as quickly and positively as you can, you begin to make real progress toward defeating fear.

Faith occurs when we finally accept our situation. We are provided with hope through our network of friends and family, and subsequently have a desire to become more involved in the productive work or action that it takes to rebuild.

Fear and Faith cannot exist in the same body at the same time. Just as we suggested above, you must turn your back on your fears and face forward with faith in yourself. With renewed self-esteem, you are now ready to make real progress in your job search.

Look forward with faith and with confidence in the new and stronger you!